Archives August 2014

FIXD App on Kickstarter Streamlines Car Maintenance

man using car audio stereo systemForget the mechanic or that auto-savvy friend or relative, and even those confusing lights on your dashboard. Soon, your smartphone may be able to tell you what’s wrong with your car.

Apple has CarPlay. Android has Android Auto. Both of these apps, and several others, have already integrate the smartphone into the driving experience of many car owners on the road. But a new gadget/app combo campaigning on kickstarter may go beyond enhancing the driving experience. It will streamline the entire maintenance process in one easy-to-use app.

The app is called FIXD. It connects your phone to your car via a blue tooth sensor plugged into the OBD-II port under your dashboard and accesses diagnostics information through your car’s computer. This is the same information that sets off warning lights on your dashboard. The sensor then sends the information to an easy-to-read display on your phone.

This may seem redundant, but a recent survey revealed that 77% of cars on the road today are behind on repairs and maintenance. Even experienced car owners may have to go digging for the manual when a light they don’t recognize comes on, especially since these signals aren’t always uniform across brands. Sometimes it’s easier just to ignore dashboard lights until they turn into trouble.

The FIXD app aims to streamline that experience. Potential problems like airbag issues and oil levels will be listed on the app, paired with information explaining the possible consequences of each issue and a quote for how much drivers may need to pay to have them repaired.

FIXD will also keep track of any maintenance you receive. You can use the app to export the records in a neat and timely fashion at any time, which is especially useful if you need to trade or sell your vehicle. The app can even keep tabs on multiple vehicles at the same time.

If the Kickstarter performs well, FIXD is set to release for Android systems in the fall and Apple systems in the spring.

The Language of Selfies

woman uses a smartphone“Selfies are pretty popular right now” might just be the understatement of 2014. Everyone has posted them — from President Barack Obama to astronaut Steve Swanson to Pope Francis to Miley Cyrus to your friends. The Oxford English Dictionary named “selfie” the word of the year in 2013. Over half of all people ages 18 to 33 have taken a selfie and shared it online, according to a poll from the Pew Researcher Center. Images that feature a person’s face are 38% more likely to get liked, and are 32% more likely to get commented on. The song “#Selfie” by The Chainsmokers was a smash hit.

How did this viral meme infect our culture? Why is it that so many people are snapping selfies all of a sudden? Is it some kind of zeitgeist, or something more?

It all began with a shift in technology. Digital cameras made photography easier in the 90s. Then Internet connections not only got faster, but became more prevalent. The first mainstream social networks, like MySpace, eventually appeared, and began popularizing self-photography. Then in 2007, Steve Jobs gave the world the iPhone, and soon after everyone had a camera in their pocket and a way to instantly share photos.

Technological advancements and innovations explain how the selfie became so popular, but it’s psychology that might explain why they’re so popular.

According to Nathaniel Herr, a professor of psychology at American University in Washington, it’s all about communication and self expression.

“I think a lot of people link it to their identity that a selfie is capturing something that they can show to the world that represents themselves,” explains Herr. “They’re more comfortable with seeing themselves and thinking about themselves than previous generations were.”

As the old adage says, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Selfies are helping people to succinctly articulate complicated messages without having to say anything at all. Selfies are more than some kind of cultural phenomena — they’re a new way to communicate.

Case in point, when a small plane crashed off the coast of Hawaii last December, Ferdinand Puentes snapped a selfie of himself bobbing in the water, with the downed plane’s tail in the background. As Fortune writer Jessi Hempel put it, “Terror screamed across his eyebrows, his photo announcing, ‘I was here, and this is how it felt.'”

Can a Summer Camp for Kids Really Be Worth the $16,000 Price Tag?

Summer-Camp_Featured-715x330Every year, 11 million American children and adults head to one of the many camps in the United States. Typically, summer camps are broken down into different disciplines. For instance, if you’re interested in outdoor survival schools and camaraderie, you might head to one of the camps put on by the Boy Scouts of America. If computers are more your thing, you’d likely head to a less traditional summer camp, where you can learn to code, build websites, and the like. At most, these camps generally come with a price tag in the hundreds to the low thousands.

Over the last few years, a new white collar class of summer camp has started to grow. Take the Tyler Hill Camp in rural Pennsylvania, for example. According to a report from CNN Money, parents can expect to pay up to $12,000 for tuition, $2,500 for uniforms, and $1,550 to attend the camp’s visitors’ day. When all is said and done, that equals a price tag of more than $16,000 — to attend a summer camp.

Not Your Grandpa’s Summer Camp
It’s worth noting that in many ways these summer camps are no different from those our grandparents went to as children. Kids are still getting outside, learning to swim, fish, and drive the occasional Ski-Doo. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a grandparent who remembers their camp offering martial arts classes, tutoring in art and design, yoga, and cooking lessons — that’s to say nothing about the branded apparel stores built onsite using tuition funds. Taken together, these additions are worth many thousands more per student.

Summer Camps Extremely Beneficial to Socialization, Education
Summer camps, whether you’re talking about the traditional versions or the new bourgeois iterations, are undoubtedly beneficial to the development of children, mostly because they push them to try new things and expand their horizons. According to the American Camp Association, 74% of campers report getting out of their comfort zones and trying something new at their summer camp.

Even so, a seven week program that comes in at the same cost as a year of college isn’t exactly accessible to most parents. Even those with the means may shirk off the idea of these camps as a matter of principle. Regardless, the demand for stratified summer camps, like Tyler Hill, speaks for itself.

What about you? Do you think these summer camps are worth the staggering price? Tell us why or why not in the comment section below.

New Study Finds Tylenol Doesn’t Help Lower Back Pain

Prescription MedicineBetween 80% to 90% of people in the U.S. suffer from back pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association, many of whom are told to take acetaminophen, which is more commonly known as Tylenol. So popular is this pain reliever that medical guidelines across the world recommend it as a first-line treatment. 

However, a new trial has recently found that acetaminophen doesn’t work any better than a placebo. “Our result illustrates the problems in relying on that indirect evidence when setting guidelines,” said George Institute for Global Health’s Christopher M. Williams, the study’s leading author.

The study randomly assorted 1,643 people who had acute lower back pain into three different groups. Dr. Williams and his colleagues gave the first group two boxes — a “regular” one with 500-milligram acetaminophen tablets, and another that was an “as-needed” box, which also had acetaminophen. The second group’s as-needed box had a placebo, and each of the third group’s boxes had placebos. 

The researchers told the participants to take six tablets every day from the regular box, and to take only two tablets from the as-needed box each day. At the end of the three month study, the researchers failed to find any difference amongst the three groups in terms of recovery time, pain, disability, function, symptom changes, sleep, or even quality of life. 

About 75% of participants were satisfied with the treatment they received, regardless of whether they received acetaminophen, placebos, or both.  Although medical professionals are acknowledging the study, they’re not going to stop prescribing acetaminophen any time soon. 

“While this is a fascinating study, it is only one study and shouldn’t change clinical behavior,” said Dr. Houman Danesh, the director of Integrative Pain Management at The Mount Sinai Hospital.

Because acetaminophen can effectively help relieve toothaches and post-surgery pains, the authors of the study say that further research is needed to understand why it is that the drug didn’t help patients’ lower back pain.

Life Continues After Bankruptcy: How Bankruptcy Offers Many A Fresh Financial Start

banruptcy-next-exitThough the economy is beginning to show promising signs of improvement, many Americans are continuing to fall deeper into debt. Financial experts say that those in debt often make big mistakes while in search of financial relief.

“American consumers deleveraged after the financial crisis, but they’re starting to take on more debt again,” says Ben Woolsey, president of credit-card advice website In fact, the total outstanding revolving credit card debt of American consumers reached $873.1 billion at the end of June 2014, according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve, and the numbers continue to steadily increase.

Unfortunately, many consumers seeking to ease the burden of debt often make mistakes that can actually make their financial situation worse. Some examples include, taking out payday or title loans, transferring a balance to a zero-interest credit card but failing to pay off the balance when the higher interest rate begins, and borrowing from a 401(k) retirement account. In addition, paying off one creditor while failing to continue making payments on other debt is counterproductive.

Filing for bankruptcy gives many Americans the opportunity to regain control of their financial and personal life, allowing them a fresh start. Bankruptcy is common debt relief option. Statistics show that one out of every 70 households in the United States files for bankruptcy, that’s an estimated 322 out of every million Americans.

However, there are a number of myths and stigmas surrounding filing for bankruptcy that are based on misinformation. For example, financial irresponsibility is not the sole reason people file for bankruptcy. In fact, most bankruptcy filings are due to unemployment or medical related expenses. It’s important to keep in mind that the benefits of filing for bankruptcy greatly outweigh the the stigmas as well as the risks of carrying debilitating debt.

Life continues after filing for bankruptcy. Additionally, filing for bankruptcy also includes long-term financial planning advice. Many Americans feel empowered after filing, as they now have the experience and know-how to make better and more informed financial decisions in the future. Bankruptcy gives Americans the opportunity to start fresh both financially and personally, allowing them the freedom to pursue the life they’ve always wanted.

Indian Design Student Wins Domotex Award Honoring Rugs as Art Forms

Rugs are beautiful ways to spice up your home design, but for Indian design student Sheefalika Mishra, rugs are an art form all on their own.

Mishra was an avid artist and designer from a young age. She completed her undergraduate degree at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi and went on to pursue a post-graduate program at the National Institute of Design, where she’s currently studying.

Her talent was recognized in a big way when she was selected from a group of 329 top design students around the world to win the Domotex International Carpet Award in the young designer category. The runners up were from Japan and Turkey.

At the awards held in Hannover, Germany, Mishra was given a $1,000 award and a hand-knotted rug based on her winning design. The rug was hand-woven in Afghanistan, a country known for extremely talented weavers and a rich history in carpet creation.

Mishra considers the win a “personal benchmark” and considers rugs textile art and statement pieces for the floor. Her own design drew from the colors in German expressionist Hans Hoffman’s “The Gate,” and the form came from the classic chevron design motif. She was also inspired by current eclectic trends in interior design and created her rug to be a mosaic of colors with character and depth.

Floor art using textiles is Mishra’s main area of interest, since it gives designers the opportunity to tell stories and can often provide communities with sustainable crafting careers. Many people don’t think about their rugs more than calling professional cleaners every 12-18 months and keeping them in good repair in the meantime, so it’s about time that designers like Mishra put the focus back on artistic floor spaces.

Mishra believes that India has immense potential as a rug production environment since many Western countries have lost touch with hand-weaving traditions, and she wants to encourage the industry as much as she can.

The Domotex Carpet Awards aim to set higher global standards for handmade rug quality and designjcdsc3184_5_7shwrmtowndo2-580. Entries were judged on quality of materials, product features, design and innovation by a jury of 9. After the jury shortlisted the best 11 designs out of the 329 submissions, winners were declared and the top rugs were displayed at Hanover awards ceremony.

Unpaid Intern Brings Lawsuit Against Clear Channel Communications, Challenging Longstanding Radio Norm

A new lawsuit filed by a former unpaid intern of Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth of a multimedia conglomerate, could change the way young people looking to break into radio and other forms of entertainment gain experience. Liane Arias, the former intern in question, alleges that the work she was made to do during her employ with Clear Channel went above and beyond what she was told would be expected of her as an unpaid intern. Arias contends that the exorbitant amount of work for no pay is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and that she, and any other past and current unpaid interns covered under the class action suit, deserve back wages.

Unpaid Internships Have Long Been a Part of Entertainment Culture
If successful, the Arias lawsuit could undermine what has been an established part of the entertainment industry for decades. As Los Angeles Times reports, similar lawsuits brought against DreamWorks and other production companies in Hollywood are popping up to challenge the business norm of full-time work for no pay. The arrangement has long been seen as mutually beneficial; interns gain the experience and expertise they need to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of big media, and entertainment giants get free labor in return.

So, Why Are These Type of Lawsuits Increasingly Common?
With the fact that this has been the way things have worked for so long now, many are wondering why interns are choosing now to fight back. As Forbes writes, 97% of large companies plan to hire interns this year. Because these companies are seen as offering false promises — only 37% of unpaid interns actually receive a job offer following their unpaid stint, compared to 35% of those who don’t participate in internships — coupled with hours and responsibilities that stretch the job definition, interns are understandably a bit peeved.

It’s a challenge that is unique to the entertainment market. While most companies face workers compensation and other legal claims meant to pay for musculoskeletal issues produced by their work environments, entertainment industry legal issues are more white collar. The truth is that in an economic climate where it’s extremely hard to come by a job — particularly in the entertainment world — many companies know that they can demand a lot out of their interns in a saturated market. That doesn’t mean the alleged practices of companies like Clear Channel Communications are ethical or legal. That, of course, is a matter for the courts to decide.

Have you had an internship experience that mirrored Liane Arias’s? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

Parents Unable To Afford Childcare Face Legal Consquences

Across the nation, many working parents can relate to the dilemma 46 year old single mother Debra Harrell faced as she began getting ready for her job; how to afford adequate childcare during summer vacation on a minimum wage income. As a shift leader at South Carolina McDonald’s restaurant, Harrell’s income is barely above the federal baseline of $7.25 an hour. Unfortunately, this does not leave much room for “luxuries” such as day care or other forms of childcare. Harrell’s solution to this common dilemma was to leave her daughter in a public park amongst many other children and adults down the street from her home. She provided her 9 year old daughter, Regina Harrell, who had asked to play at the park while her mother was at work, with a cell phone and food. This decision ultimately led to Debra Harrell’s arrest, a night spent in jail, and temporary lost custody of her daughter for 17 days. At one point during this ordeal, Harrell thought she may even lose her only source of income, her job at McDonald’s. Additionally, Harell still faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted for felony child neglect.

Unfortunately, Harrell is not alone, as cases similar in nature to hers have been popping up across the country. In fact, 56% of mothers and a comparable 50% of fathers struggle to balance work and parenting responsibilities. Single parenting is quite often a juggling act between the cost of living and adequate child care. Situations like Harell’s paint an all too familiar picture of the struggles single parents face in regards to child care and child support. Family law practices, such as the Zolman Law Firm Family Law St. Louis, can help prepare and even prevent parents from having to face a situation like this. With decades of experience in family law practices, Family Law St. Louis can give single parents the tools and resources they need in order ensure their families remain together.